Top 12 problems with patios you should know

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Natasha Maerz

Natasha Maerz

Owner/Office Manager

When starting an outdoor patio project, the last thing you want to be thinking about is what problems could arise before, during, and after your patio is installed. Instead, you are most likely dreaming of patio season,  about all of the things you plan to do with your new space, how to decorate it, and the memories that will be made with friends and family while outdoor dining, relaxing around a fire pit and having BBQ’s . Outdoor patios are a big investment, and like most hardscape    projects, problems will inevitably happen. In this article we touch on the common problems people face with their patio build, so that when patio problems do pop up, you are better prepared to deal with them.

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1. Not letting your patio live up to its full potential

We have all dreamed about an outdoor patio that is fully functional and is everything you ever dreamed of. It is the difference between having a nice patio, and a patio that is great for entertaining and is read for patio season. So many things can be done to turn your patio into a spot where everyone wants to be. (Picture your outdoor space with your guests enjoying a dining experience like no other, under a pergola, or covered patio)Just like you should preplan having gas lines installed before the patio build starts, you should think about pre wiring speakers, WIFI, tv outlets, and pre pluming for water features. Surprisingly, if done before the pavers go down, it is fairly easy to set these up so that down the road you can add these to your patio. The beauty of this is if you are unsure you are going to need something, you can at least have a starting point for it, such as having wires run for a TV, and add that later when it is apparent that you and your family would like a TV outside to enjoy movies and quality time together. It is also wise to have electrical put in for fireplaces or heaters, especially with our cold Canadian weather!  This is the difference between a space that is functional right now, and an outdoor living space that can grow with you and your family.

2. Critical infrastructure for your patio build

When putting in a patio something that often gets overlooked is the pre planning phase of the landscaping  project, such as putting in gas lines or installing power for things such as lights or water features. The reason these things should be thought of before any construction of the site takes place is because it is easier to run them before the pavers get placed, when everything is exposed. If you are thinking that you would like to have a gas line run to where your  fire pit will eventually go, or if you would like to have a pond put in in a couple of years that needs a pump, you will need power and gas lines. If your  hardscape structure is already built without it, you will have to rip up part of the patio to get lines in. This can cause a major headache because your patio will probably not look the same once redone, and this is added work that could have been done earlier. It really helps to have a contractor who has experience with putting in gas lines and power lines, and can give you ideas on what you might want in the future to avoid doing things twice . This truly gives you piece of mind that in the future you can add extra entertainment to you patio with little to no hassle.


3. Site challenges that can arise when building a patio

One of the most common problems to a patio built is site challenges. Some backyards are not large enough to accommodate machinery, or have steep hills or slopes to take into consideration when planning a project such as a patio build. Narrow access points and areas that are too small for machines can actually take a physical and mental toll on the company that is building your patio. Without the use of machines, the project may take longer to haul materials in and out, and when having to wheelbarrow materials can get physically difficult for the workers. Having site challenges can also cause a moral dilemma for the contractor, as they might be tempted to cut corners due to the physicality of the job. One example of this is that for patios it is recommended that the excavated base for the pavers be 6-8” deep. There is nothing that states that if the site is challenging you can go ahead and not dig it as deep. After a day of digging in the heat it can be tempting to not go as deep as recommended. Homeowners  should trust that they have hired a reputable company that is not going to cut corners, even when site challenges happen. If you have a backyard that has some challenges, remember that it may take the contractor more time to get the project done properly.

4. Outdoor Patio Safety

When enjoying your  new patio,  the last thing you want to think about is someone getting hurt while on it. Patios can be tripping hazards, due things such as stairs being built incorrectly, or pavers being placed unevenly. Tripping hazards are especially dangerous for people with mobility issues, and for children and pets. Contractors who are aware of these safety issues will make sure to take extra care when installing your patio, and will want your and your family’s safety to be their number one priority.

5. Discoloration on patio pavers

When choosing a patio paver, most of us look for color and shape of the paver that we like. The brochures that we look at show us pavers with beautiful colors and no flaws. This however, is not the reality of what pavers look like when they are getting installed. Pavers in fact do not look nice and new, and actually look like quite an eyesore.  Pavers from the factory are put on pallets and wrapped in plastic, and then shipped to retailers. Once the retailers receive the paver shipment, the pallet usually sits outside until it is ready to go to a job site. This means that the pavers are sitting, wrapped in the plastic for long periods of time, which traps moisture. Once the pavers are taken off of the pallet you will see a whitish disposition of salts on the surface of the paver, known as efflorescence . This efflorescence is caused by vapor migrating through the concrete and bringing salts to the surface of the concrete. Efflorescence makes your new pavers look old and unsightly, and although it can be gotten rid of by doing an acid wash, most contractors do not do this. Most pictures that you will see that show a new patio install will show the pavers looking “wet”. This wet look is deceiving because before taking the pictures, contractors’ and photographers actually hose down the patio, making it appear flawless, and giving it that wet look. When the patio dries, the pavers will still have the whiteish tinge to it, unless the contractor has taken the time to address the efflorescence.

6. Patio slope

You might not think that the slope of your patio is important, but the way it slopes will affect its function. The reason the  slope of your patio pavers is important is because you want your patio to be dry, so that your space is useable and comfortable. After a rain event, if your slope is off, your patio could have water pooling, making the entire paver space  unusable. What’s even worse is that you do not want your décor that you have spent $1,000’s of dollars on getting wrecked from standing water. No one wants to step out to their patio to enjoy their morning coffee and get wet feet!  The most accurate way to slope a patio is to use a laser level. The laser level will be able to give you not only an exact slope, but what is called a dual slope. A dual slope ensures that the water on your patio not only runs off the end of the patio, but that the water on the edges of the patio will not make its way into the middle of your space. Surprisingly, many contractors do not do a dual slope, or use a laser level. When these methods are not used, it is impossible to accurately slope the pavers , and water will pool. Another way that water pooling can be prevented is by making sure the proper polymeric sand  is used in between the pavers.   The right polymeric sand will stop the water from getting underneath the paver , and will stop the erosion of the sand that the pavers are placed on.

7. The patio paver base

One of the things that most homeowners worry about when getting a patio installed is if their pavers are going to settle, and shift. Over time pavers can get gaps in them due to the pavers moving. This movement is caused by the materials under the paver eroding. Luckily this patio problem can be addressed! By building a structurally sound base for the pavers to go on, the pavers will not be able to shift. This is done by placing a base of 6-8” of strong, compactible, free draining gravel. Once the gravel is placed and the elevation is accurate, approximately 3/4” of bedding sand is placed. It is extremely tedious to get the elevation of the gravel accurate, and unfortunately many contractors will install more sand than needed because sand is easy to level, gravel on the other hand is tedious to work with. The problem with using more sand than you should is that sand erodes over time, and this is what causes the pavers to shift and move. Your pavers  cannot look good long term if a structurally sound base is not used, as the pavers will eventually shift and have gaps in them.


8.Patio Edge restraints

Have you ever looked at a paver patio and thought that the concrete pavers look like they are going to “let go” at any moment? The reason they look like this is because the patio was probably built without any edge restraints. Edge restraints are placed on the last row of  pavers to physically restrain them, preventing the pavers from falling off. Without these, pavers move out of place during freeze-thaw cycles , and with traffic walking on them. Edge restraints can be done with plastic or by doing a concrete curb. Finishing touches like these are what can give you a long-lasting useable patio that you can enjoy for years to come.

9. How weather affects your patio installation

After the pavers are put in, and the sand is ready to be installed, an important step is to make sure that the pavers are completely dry. We all know that this can be challenging, as our weather is unpredictable. Polymeric sand,  or Joint sand, needs to be able to go all the way to the bottom of the pavers, about 2 1/2”. If there is any moisture in between the pavers, sand can get hung up on the sides of the pavers and will not be able to properly lock them in.  To make things more complicated, if an acid wash has been done to remove the efflorescence from the pavers contractor may have to wait even longer to do the joint sand if the pavers still damp. When booking your patio instal, it is imperative to be aware that the timeline depends on the weather before, during, and after the pavers are installed. Fall and spring applications make this even more challenging as the weather can change drastically during this time.

10.Paver patio Joint sand

After pavers are installed, polymeric sand known as joint sand, is used to lock in the pavers so that they do not move. As per the manufacturer’s guidelines, using polymeric sand that has activators in it is recommended.  These activators will lock the pavers in place, and when activated with water will turn hard, almost like concrete, due to the glue that is mixed with the sand. Unfortunately, most companies will choose to use a fine masonry sand that can be ordered by the truckload to lock the pavers place, instead of the recommended sand. The look of the pavers will still be the same as when sand with activators is used, and will still fill the gaps between the pavers, but its lifespan is limited. This sand has no glue or binding agents in it, and will wash out of the paver cracks. Once that happens, the sand will need to be replaced. If the sand is not replaced, the pavers  move, and the patio will need to be redone. Another thing to keep in mind is that proper joint sand will prevent weeds from growing in between pavers, whereas sand will allow them to grow freely.

11. Sealing the patio pavers

When getting a  new patio installed, we often think that once the pavers are placed, the job is done, but really, placing the pavers is just the beginning of a great looking patio that will last. As stated above, the efflorescence  on the pavers should be removed to make the pavers look new, and then the pavers should be sealed. Sealing the pavers give it that “wet” look that we spoke about in problem number 2. There is quite a bit of prep work involved before the sealing of the pavers start, such as protecting the siding and other areas that you do not want to seal. Most pavers need to be sprayed with sealer three times when they are first getting sealed, and there is a waiting time of 24 hrs between each coat. This is something to be aware of when thinking of the timeline for when your patio will be ready to use. Keep in mind that once sealed, the pavers should be resealed every year for the first couple of years, and that full sun, high traffic areas will lose the look of the sealer quicker than areas that are in the shade.

12. Not enjoying the process of building your patio

The best part about getting a new patio is decorating and setting it up how you and your family want it. During the installation of your patio, instead of worrying about the outcome, spend time creating your new space in your mind. Look at magazines and websites that show patio designs to see what look you like, and what colors or theme you are going for. You can spend the day as a family going to different stores and seeing what couches, fire pits, and rugs you like. The joy of building a space like this is that your patio can be made into whatever you want it to be. Maybe one member of the family enjoys reading, and  can’t wait to find a comfy outdoor couch to read a good book on. Another member of the family may loves plants, and is excited to find pots and hanging baskets to brighten up the space. Whatever you and your family are in to, it is the perfect time to start planning what you want the patio to look like after its done.

These problems are all fixable, and with a little preparation and thought on you and your contractors’ part, you will be able to enjoy the patio of your dreams sooner than you imagined!  For projects like these having a budget is super important. Not sure where to start? read Why is a landscaping budget important?